Owners of turkey farm closed 3 years ago await land sale, savor memories


Three years ago, the last fresh, broad-breasted, bronze turkey crossed the customer counter at Schramm's Turkey Farm. And while Louis Schramm insists the end of an era in Baltimore-area Thanksgivings was no big deal, his reddened eyes betray him.

"It was like a morgue in here," says Mr. Schramm, his tone matter-of-fact, but his eyes filling with tears as he recalls the farm's last days. "The customers asked, 'What are we going to do?' Then they said they were going to miss us and all that jazz."

Each turkey sold those last few weeks came with a yellow card: "Schramm's Turkey Farm, 1944-1990. This is the last year we will be raising turkeys. We thank you for your business all these years. It has been a pleasure serving you. Thanks again, Louis and Bill."

As 1993 draws to a close, the Schramms are waiting for permits to clear so they can sell most of their 213 acres to Koch Associates, which plans a 448-home development on what is one of the largest undeveloped tracts in Pasadena. The family will keep 37 acres for a new home closer to Mountain road, where they now grow Christmas trees.

Louis Schramm says the family will keep its produce stand on Mountain Road, where they sell green cantaloupes -- "If you've never had a green one, you haven't had a cantaloupe," he says -- until the sale of the land is final, probably in two years.

But some people driving on Mountain Road apparently still haven't realized that the turkey farm is closed.

"We still have people come looking, a half-a-dozen last weekend," Louis says. "People said they saw a sign out front that said, 'Order now for Thanksgiving.' That sign only says, 'Schramm's Turkey Farm' now."

The first thing those customers probably saw was the sign on the main building, reading 'Honk for service."

But now at the farm, neither horns nor the sound of 10,000 squawking, flightless birds rattle the two huge, tin-roofed feeding sheds.

The only sound is the hammering coming from a back room of the main building.

"It's all cherry," Bill Schramm, Louis' younger brother, says of the wood in his secretary's desk. He's added a 3 1/2 -foot bookshelf to the top, complete with hand-carved trim.

The room's big stainless steel tables are ideal for his woodworking craft. He says he doesn't sell the pieces he makes.

"You couldn't afford them, son," he explains.

Louis Schramm is standing behind the counter in the main building, which housed the killing room, packing room, storage room and a walk-in freezer. It was where all the customers came to order, pick up and pay for their holiday gobblers -- birds that until just a few days or hours earlier had been running around the farm. "Some days, you couldn't get in the door," Mr. Schramm says. "You had to stand in line and take a number."

The half-dozen buildings that housed the farm and all its operations are now used for storage -- save for the killing room, where Bill Schramm is putting the finishing touches on his desk. His brother is standing behind a white linoleum counter in front of the freezer, explaining a photo collage on the wall that depicts turkey raising from egg to roaster.

"Turkeys are the second dumbest animals and there's only one thing dumber," Louis Schramm says. "Men dumb enough to raise them."

One picture shows a turkey chick pecking at a blue marble in its feeder. "They were too dumb to eat. We sometimes had to use the light from inside a marble to get their attention.

"They were always trying to commit suicide," he recalls. "They'd find a hole in the wall and wring their heads off, pick each other to death in the pen, run toward danger -- thieves, dogs, whatever -- instead of running away."

On Christmas morning 1967, Louis, William, their sister Emma and cousin Evelyn woke to find that three dogs had made their way into the huge pen in front of the family house. "They tore up about 150 turkeys," Louis Schramm says.

"That was a beautiful sight on Christmas. It took those dogs about an hour and a half, but I got two of them," he says. And later, many more marauding dogs met the same fate. "We killed a lot of them over the years, stopped counting at around 600," he says.

Bill Schramm hammers nail after nail as Louis explains the family's decision to close.

Louis Schramm will be 68 next month. He, his brother, 66, their sister, 65, and cousin 48, have always lived at the Schramm house.

They took over from an uncle in the 1970s, Louis Schramm says -- "I don't remember exactly when."

"None of us is getting any younger," he explains. "None of us married, so there's no children or grandchildren."

The Schramms also had trouble finding help. "The boys that did help the last couple years all grew up, got married and got other jobs that they couldn't quit," he said.

Taxes played a role in the closing, too. If one of them dies, Louis Schramm says, the remaining three must pay inheritance tax on the other's share of the land.

"You don't need a rocket scientist to figure that's a lot of money. If you inherited that much, you'd take your share and pay tax out of it. But we're not inheriting money as such.

"We've had a lot of good customers and a lot of good turkeys, but everything has to come to an end. You can't keep working forever."

Louis Schramm, a member of the Carney Gun Club, now keeps himself busy trap shooting. "I'm not good but a lot of people in Maryland are," he said. "Some of the better shots in the country."

The farm may be gone, but some things Louis Schramm won't miss.

"I won't miss working 20-hour days or having my days interrupted by reporters," he says. "The TV and newspapers must think it's a crime to interview a turkey farmer unless it's one or two days before Thanksgiving."

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